The Truth About Cars » shenandoah The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:36:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » shenandoah Unsponsored Content: Fifty Dolla Track Daze Yo Sun, 04 Aug 2013 14:30:09 +0000 gt46

It’s one of those too-good-to-be-true things that turns out to be true anyway: Volkswagen is sponsoring a fifty-freaking-dollar trackday at Summit Point’s Shenandoah Road Course. You need to be a VW owner and you need to bring that VW to the track. There are probably a few other little caveats and fine-print things in the registration as well, but generally this is what it sounds like: a stellar opportunity to get on-track with one of the best organizations in the United States.

Your humble E-I-C was scheduled to be an instructor at this thing, but I just got out of the hospital with some pretty fire-resistant pneumonia and I won’t be up to speed in time to come hang out. Have a good time without me, okay?

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Review: Toyota Camry SE 2.5L, Track Tested Wed, 29 May 2013 12:44:23 +0000 Picture courtesy Julie Hyde.

When TTAC’s Mike Solowiow tested the Camry SE V-6, he didn’t spare the rod or spoil the child:

“…in situations where steering feel warns of problems (hydroplaning, ice, collision avoidance) the Camry SE gives lifeless to the point of useless. Beating at the steering column with a wiffle bat and screaming like Yvette Fielding in ‘Most Haunted’ are more entertaining than trying to make the Camry hustle. It doesn’t move, flow, or have chassis alacrity all its rivals exhibit.”

If the V-6 is that bad, the 178-horsepower four-cylinder must be terrible, right? I mean, if I took it to a racetrack and tooled it around in the advanced-driver groups with a bunch of people in it, we’d be miserable right? We’d never pass anybody, right? We’d never toss that bee-otch out of the Carousel with hands off the wheel and let it snake-oscillate up the hill running past the curbs in the dirt and putting that big-bird chrome grill right up the tailpipe of a Spec Miata, right?

Last year, I tried the Volvo S60 T5 around Summit Point Shenandoah and was able to coax a very high 1:53 out of it. At the time, I thought the Volvo at $35K might make a case for itself against a $28K Camry, and I said as much.

The Camry I brought to Shenandoah this time, however, wasn’t $28K. It was $23,600, which is how much you pay for a zero-option SE four-cylinder. I’m pretty sure there’s a little wiggle room in that price, too. Although my TrackMaster wasn’t behaving, I almost immediately ran a 1:58 in the car.

With two additional passengers. On a track that had seen rain just hours earlier.

The next day, I easily knocked out a bunch of 1:54s. So for two-thirds the price of the Volvo, you can run the same laps. What’s interesting is that the Camry does it with an seventy-two horsepower disadvantage. How’s that work?

Before we get to the track stuff, however, and I know that’s what you really want out of this and every other Camry review out there, let’s consider the rest of the car. Why, it’s quite delightful! It’s quiet in both of the ways that really matter: wind noise on the freeway and traditional NVH everywhere else. You can hold conversations with people in this car, even if they are in the back seat.

The infotainment system is almost laughably stupid next to, say, MyFordTouch, but it is extremely easy to use and the stereo sounds pretty good to my battered ears. I’m currently in a personal phase of my life where I am only listening to the Fleet Foxes and I had no difficulty finding “Sun Giant”, “Helplessness Blues”, or the eponymous debut LP on my 15,000-song iPod Classic. The combination of the quiet interior and listenable stereo can be quite seductive and I’m embarrassed to admit that my 911 and my Boxster S never left the garage while I had the Camry in my possession.

Captain Solowiow’s review of the V-6 model touched on a variety of fit and finish issues with the interior panels. I didn’t notice any of those on this four-cylinder, which had endured several thousand miles of rental abuse before it passed into my hands, but let’s face it: Toyota knocks these things out in Kentucky using whatever labor they can get their hands on and using suppliers who spend one zillion computer cycles a day trying to make pedal bushings cheaper. If you want a Camry that was built to Lexus quality standards and will be around after aliens destroy the moon to destabilize our tides and drown New York in an ocean of sand, you’ll want to find a 1994 Camry XLE V-6 and never let it go. Those were the glory days of Toyota. What we have in this Camry is simply a car built about as well as they can manage for the price, which isn’t significantly higher than that 1994 Camry cost in unadjusted fiat (not FIAT) money.

There are a few surprise-and-delights: Toyota makes sure you get a decent steering wheel for your money, which is more than anybody’s ever been able to say about the Corvette. And the shift-it-yourself paddles are made of metal, properly fixed to the steering wheel, and operate with a sort of machined precision. They’re a lot like the one-way paddles for which Porsche continues to charge extra money on PDK-equipped 911s. The metallic trim feels pretty metallic, although it scratches very easily and doesn’t look durable. In black, the interior has a sort of dignity to it, at least. During my on-track adventure the power-steering switch plate on the driver’s door elected to abandon ship and pop out of the armrest, but a sharp bang with the elbow put everything right. That’s probably how they assemble them to begin with.

The seats are also very good: I put 1,767 miles on this Camry in the space of Friday noon to Tuesday noon and had no complaints whatsoever. Could have done more. They’re not luxurious or obviously comfortable but the lack of a backache after six hurried hours across Pennsylvania is worth real money to me. Visibility’s good as well. I don’t really myself qualified to discuss styling, but compared to the last Camry, which looked something like those bugs that fell off the Cloverfield monster, this one’s decent. The Kia Optima is obviously sexier but there’s something just a touch, um, Baume & Mercier about it: you get the sense that the whole thing might be made of chrome-plated foam that disintegrates in heavy rain.

I arrived at Shenandoah feeling very good about the Camry and that good feeling continued as I managed to get nearly seventy laps out of a single tank of gas. To put that in perspective, putting the same kind of mileage on a five-liter Mustang GT required two additional fillups. The reward for that thirst was laptimes that put the Camry in the shade by a nine-second margin. The unspectacular, undersquare four-cylinder engine never failed to deliver its modest power predictably and it lived at redline for half an hour at a time without problems.

Admittedly, I’m an old hand at tossing a crappy sedan around racetracks but on the wet skidpad the Camry showed the whole paddock the sterling qualities of its chassis. It was possible to distinctly and accurately feel the “bite point” where the front wheels found their maximum traction through the water, at which point a quick lift of the throttle would put the big sedan lazily sideways for a full half-circle of the skidpad. Camry drifting! I can’t criticize the steering of any car where that’s possible. Period, point blank. This car steers very well.

That sense of balance comes into play in Shenandoah’s “Big Bend” where it’s possible to put the Camry in very close proximity to other cars at the limit of the tires:

Picture courtesy Julie Hyde.

I won’t try to convince you that the Camry could hang with that tuned FD: it couldn’t. But in fast corners you could use its unshakeable stability and talkative steering to push it very hard and thus sniff at cars with much higher but more troublesome limits. We passed more drivers than we yielded to, even with passengers. Very few people want to move over for a Camry so sometimes I had to make it pretty explicit. I apologize to anybody who couldn’t see the Toyota emblem behind them because I was two feet off their bumper down the hill after the Hammer. The Camry’s just very easy to drive fast there, and everywhere else.

At the end of two fairly long days’ worth of abuse, the SE shrugged it off, loaded all my gear, and went home feeling not a bit worse for wear. I took the car to Cleveland the following day for work and enjoyed the quiet and the stereo and the seats and all that some more.

Toyota is about my least favorite car company in the world, and I’ve seen a lot of subpar product wear the badge in previous years, but this car is worth buying. At $23,600, it has clear and admirable virtues. I’d spend my own money on it. I’d rather have a stick-shift, of course, but it isn’t like the transmission ever misbehaved under racetrack conditions. Those pretty paddles, by the way, don’t do much when you’re really pushing the car. The Camry will shift when it wants to, plain and simple.

Camry Vee-sixes are rare meat in rental fleets so I doubt I’ll ever have a chance to see if I share Captain Mike’s opinion of that particular car, but I know how I feel about the four-cylinder. It’s a hell of a car and I recommend it without reservation at the price. The average enthusiast in the street will probably laugh at you for driving one but there are a hundred-plus track rats out there who saw the thing in action and won’t chuckle at all. I could see buying one myself. Of course, I’d want a little more power, and a better stereo, and some more insulation if that’s possible and OH MY GOD I AM TALKING ABOUT A LEXUS ES350 HERE OKAY LET’S CALL THIS REVIEW OVER RIGHT. FREAKING. NOW.

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Track Tested: 2012 Volvo S60 T5 Wed, 17 Oct 2012 13:00:59 +0000

When our own Michael Karesh reviewed Volvo’s entry-level entry-luxury aeroback, he advised TTAC readers that the optional Dynamic Package was “…a must for anyone who cares about driving.” Hey! I care about driving! Trouble is, the rental companies don’t.

As some of you know, I spend a dozen or so weekends every year doing driver coaching with various organizations. My favorite among the miscellany of groups optimistic or stupid enough to let me endanger their students is TrackDAZE. I had agreed to coach at their Summit Point Shenandoah event, but the froglike little Korean coupe I’d hoped to drive at the event fell through. My Boxster was making some groaning noises, so I decided to source an Altima or similar from a rental company for the trip.

Imagine my surprise when I had the chance to bump up to a Volvo for five dollars a day extra! This, incidentally, would be a compelling argument if Volvo made it directly to the American people: “A nice Camry is $28,000. A nice Volvo is $35,000. That’s $140 a month extra in payments, or basically five dollars a day. For five dollars a day extra, wouldn’t you rather have a Volvo?” Sure you would, at least in the short term — and sure I did.

Shenandoah is an 850-mile round trip for me. During that time, the S60 was all of these things:

  • Noisy. As a Town Car driver, I’m a bit spoiled quiet-wise, but a brief spin in an Accord afterward confirmed it: this little fellow is noisy, and it’s mostly wind noise. How ironic, because the car’s regrettably Civic-esque suppository-shape is theoretically a product of aerodynamics. It sure isn’t a product of wanting to look expensive.
  • Economical. I saw 31mpg in mixed freeway/two-lane driving, rarely below 80mph, not consciously conserving fuel in any way. Impressive.
  • Easy to operate Everything from the iPod integration to the seat controls is intelligently done and quite convenient to operate. The climate control area looks a bit dopey but it works.
  • Not super well-equipped. No nav, no heated seats, no boomin’ system, no gimmicks at all, really. Other than leather seats, I didn’t see any equipment that you wouldn’t get in an Accord LX.
  • Nice and quick on the road. It’s about as fast as you could want for merging into traffic, making it to a “hole” in the next lane, and whatnot. I figure it’s about as quick in a straight line as an ’88 Corvette or a new Camry V-6.

I’m not actually sure what the selling point of this car is, now that I’ve mentioned the Camry V-6. It’s not as big or roomy as the transplant mid-sizers. It’s no faster than the up-cannoned versions of said mid-sizers. It looks like a Civic, which is to say cheap and dorky. The only unique technology is something that keeps you from hitting pedestrians at city speeds. I turned that shit off on principle the minute I got in the car. If I wanted to interfere with evolution, I’d go to that super-awesome museum in Kentucky where they have a diorama of a caveman riding a Triceratops.

This video shows Shenandoah pretty well; it’s a 1:51 lap done by a fellow driving an R-package Miata on Hankook R-compounds. Feel free to watch it so you get a sense of what’s where.

Click here to view the embedded video.

As noted in an earlier review, I’m going to try to use the Trackmaster system wherever I can to give you an honest, third-party, warts-and-all perspective on my performance in a particular car. I drove three sessions in the S60. In the first one, the brake pads caught on fire and I had to come in. In the second session, I had two additional passengers in the car. This session was set with a single passenger. Although there was some traffic in every lap, it wasn’t anything too troublesome. Cut and paste the below link to see my whole session. Ignore the fact that the car is listed as “Mazda2″. That’s me being lazy.

The fastest lap was the first one — 1:53.996. That’s about two and a half seconds shy of our friend in the Miata. I left the transmission in “S” for the whole lap. You can negotiate the data and see my exact line around each corner for every lap. Note that the G-meter sometimes shows braking when all that it really happening is steady-state cornering.

So. The first thing to note is positive: this is a car that gets 30mpg during a very comfy 400-mile trip and once you get there it performs pretty closely to a lightly-prepared Miata. Did I mention that I was listening to “The Lumineers” during the lap? Now you know. I think the song was “Flowers In Your Hair.” It’s the kind of hat-wearing pseudo-retro hipster crap I associate with young women in Nashville. Anyway.

On the back straight, the Volvo bops the 100-mph mark briefly before requiring some very conservative braking to get turned for the big hairpin, which is Turn 17 on most maps. The tires were no-season nondescript junk and they really howled; one of the TrackDAZE guys said he could hear the Volvo almost all the way around the track. And yes, there is UNDERSTEER AT THE LIMIT. Quite a bit of it. But it isn’t hopeless. Just grind the outside tire a bit, look for your exit, and then appreciate the remarkably decorous and torque-steer-free way the Volvo rockets to the outside curb. The transmission is pretty smart and it rarely dallies too much in the high gears.

On the boost, the S60 will surprise cars like a Honda S2000 or un-tuned WRX briefly because the punch happens from low revs and it’s linear in the way it goes about delivering power. We’re to another hairpin before you know it and this time I’m going to use my left foot to tap the brakes and deliberately slew the Volvo sideways a bit. It’s happy to so and there’s never a suggestion that you might lose control. Props.

In the “Cave” S-curves that follow, the S60 feels a bit out of place. It doesn’t change direction very well and the tires are to blame. Body roll is signifcant but controllable. Our Miata friend doesn’t really brake for the left-hander to the next long straight, but we have to. Then it’s time for the power again, and as I demonstrated again and again to my students, the S60 will eat sixteen-second quarter cars like Miatas very easily here.

Check out my line into Turn Three! I don’t screw around with setup at all here. I brake late and ride the track all the way in as if the turn didn’t exist. That’s a losing strategy in a NASA race but here it’s just fine since we want to maximize the time the Volvo’s engine works. Now to grind the tires through “The Hook”. Guess what? You can hit the curbs so hard the S60 goes briefly sideways with the violence of it — and it’s still totally safe and controllable.

The stability control on the S60 never turns all the way off… until you overheat the brakes. Then it does and there’s a nice little notice to let you know about it. What we gain from that we lose by having the brakes that hot, so although my in-corner speeds were higher once that happened the lap times weren’t as good overall. Through Turn Eight and up the back straight the Volvo can really annoy Subarus with its power and the relaxed way it gets the front wheels off the ground on the Bridge Straight. Time to smoke the sobbing brakes and jump nose-first into the Carousel.

Here the stability control gets very upset if it hasn’t already given up, grabbing the brakes as your nose bobs and the G-forces become positively ridiculous. I gave the S60 full throttle three concrete pads before the end so it would be on boost to jump up the hill. Hit every curb gangster hard to rotate the Volvo. It can take it. But in the Corkscrew, my photographer captured something scary:

Can you see the problem?

Can you see it now? That’s no good. I’d want better tires before I went back with one of these cars. Poke and strech may be popular among the “dubbers” but it has no place on a racetrack. No wonder the car felt so wonky.

A note about the Volvo’s steering: it’s fine, very trustworthy. The power steering never lost assistance and I never got any unusual transition damping or responses from the helm. It has my approval, particularly for a Dynamatted fat-ass of a front-wheel-drive sedan. Even when the inside front tire was spinning — which was, oh, I don’t know, EVERY SINGLE TURN — it was reliable and informative.

Corkscrew was no fun! Time to get back on the power, use the left foot to rotate in Big Bend, and throttle across the line. Everybody liked riding in the Volvo. It was completely confidence-inspiring. I’m not sure you could crash it unless you were a complete fool who has no business whatsoever on a road course. Sometimes I just took my hands off the wheel and let it go its own way like Lindsay Buckingham. It didn’t crash. It’s stable and nice like that. Even over curbs.

After a full day of track abuse, the Volvo drove home just as nicely as it had driven to the track. Still noisy, you know? But pleasant and given that I had to stay awake for 40 hours in a row to make the trip possible without spending any money or time on a hotel I have to say the car felt like my ally, not my enemy, in that effort.

The big question has to be: Would you buy this car over a 328i? Why would you? It looks flimsy and low-status. It isn’t loaded to the gills like an ES350. It might not last very long or be very affordable to repair. Who knows what the Chinese will do with their stewardship of Volvo. An Infiniti G37 would smoke it around the track for the same kind of money, although to be fair, the Volvo was just eight seconds a lap behind a time set by a new Porsche 991S at the same track by another track-rat journo recently. How badly do you want that time?

My money would go somewhere else. This wasn’t a compelling car for me, and in the end it’s a combination of the noise and the bargain-basement styling that does it. Still, it has plenty of virtues, it’s perfectly respectable as a road-trip proposition, and on the track it was solid and trustworthy. Come to think of it, isn’t that what you want from a Volvo?

Disclaimer: Nobody gave me nothing.

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